September 21, 2012

Top 10 Lessons I Learned From Teaching My First Yoga Class. ~ Karmela Lejarde

For various and sundry reasons, I swore to myself back in the day that I would never ever become a yoga teacher.

Naturally, along with other things I have sworn never ever to do (live in the ‘burbs, work in the ‘burbs, etc), this too has now come to pass. (Note to self: I will never, ever win the lottery.)

Anyway, yes my friends, I’m now a yoga teacher.

Or at least someone who’s in teacher training, who’s gotten herself a regular gig assisting another teacher, and who can sub a primary series class on short notice.

How did this happen?! Well, I can only blame that potent cocktail of peer pressure (yeah I’m talking to you, Virginia, who offered to mentor me for free. Free!), opportunity (Virginia opened a new yoga studio so she is in need of teachers), and a whole lot of deep and abiding enjoyment in my practice.

Oh, and let’s not forget the cheerleaders who at every stage encouraged me and fed me bullshit compliments like, “You are going to be awesome!” (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Tova!)

So here I am the day after subbing my first two full classes—one a led primary and the other a modified primary—and I can already say that I learned a boatload.

Exactly what, you ask? Did I learn practical alignment techniques like how to help a really stiff runner fold forward? Or maybe gain a deeper understanding of the mechanics of the Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana roll?

Of course not. The things I learned are, for the most part, quite mundane. Stuff that teacher trainings don’t even bother to cover because after all, why would they? It’s all common sense stuff!

I wanted to list them so I can remember, and maybe even help a person or two who are also on their way to becoming yoga teachers. So I present my list of the…

Top 10 Practical Things I Learned After Teaching My First Yoga Class

1. Bathe before class. And by “bathe,” I mean make myself smell like roses, and I don’t mean that figuratively. Carol Miller’s Hygiene Manifesto doesn’t just apply to students—it applies to teachers even more so, and even more so for Ashtanga teachers.

Why? Because Ashtanga teachers, especially mysore teachers, are an adjusty-bunch. We like to nudge and stretch and sit and tug on our students. We press them down and pull them up and bind them. We get really close.

Have you seen a teacher try to bind a student for the first time in Marichyasana D? Or sit on them during Supta Vajrasana? If I have funk, my students have funk.

2. Brush my teeth and pop a breath mint too. The continuation of #1. Seems to be nothing but common sense, but it bears stating here.

3. Adjustments wear me out! It’s hard work squishing students in Paschimottanasana. I have to make sure I’m not putting my entire body weight on them, which means I have to support my weight too somehow.

4. The wrong adjustment won’t just hurt the student, it can hurt me too!

I’m only 4’10” tall so the day that a 6’ guy asks me to drop him back might be the day I turn him down. He will be heavier than me and his hinge points will be miles and miles different from mine.

I know that other shorty instructors drop back much taller students all the time, but I’m not there yet. Or at all. I can already picture me and 6’ tall dude crashing to the floor from a failed drop-back.

5. I will get my students sweat on me. I realized this last night as I looked down halfway through my first class. I wasn’t breathing hard, was really barely sweating, but the front of my shirt was soaked.

That sweat didn’t come from me, it came from my students as I adjusted them in various and sundry postures. This does not gross me out—not at all—but I have to remember to bring two extra shirts to change into in-between and after class so I don’t gross my students out.

6. Demonstrating a posture can be hazardous. Every teacher already knows this instinctively, but when you’re in front of the room and the clock is ticking and the breath count needs to be maintained, sometimes the most efficient way to keep the class moving is to just show them the posture.

Danger with a capital D, because as we all know, coldasana equals injury. Last night, I must have fought the urge to bust out a posture probably half a dozen times.

7. I need to watch for cheating students. And by cheating, I mean not breathing. As a practitioner, I do hold my breath here and there and I don’t usually sweat it. But as a teacher, I have to police these non-breathing moments.

I found myself straining to hear that noisy, Darth Vadar-like Ashtanga breathing, and had to remember to keep encouraging, encouraging, encouraging when the sound was absent.

8. Teaching beginners is more daunting than teaching intermediate students. Maybe as I gain more experience, students new to yoga—with their stiffer bodies and different expectations (“Yoga is supposed to be relaxing!” “It’s just stretching!”)—might not be so scary.

Last night, I found myself stepping back to observe less experienced students instead of diving in to adjust them because I was terrified of tearing a muscle or injuring them in any way.

9. I need to look good. Naturally. Not for my students but for me. Having hair that’s pinned and colorful clothing puts me in a positive frame of mind.

10. And finally, teaching yoga is really fun. And rewarding and scary and humbling. Even though I knew that practicing is fun, I had my doubts about the funness of being a teacher. But I wasn’t surprised at all when during class, I noticed that my overriding emotion was happiness. Pure joy.

So maybe despite all my previous protestations, I need to stop resisting and just surrender to the practice—both as a student and a teacher.

See you on the mat!


Karmela grew up watching her dad practice the same series of yoga postures every night before going to bed. Only after she found Ashtanga at age 37, and almost two decades after her dad had already passed away, did she realize he had been practicing the Ashtanga closing sequence all those years ago. These days, and with much homage to her dad, Karmela practices Ashtanga most every morning in the mysore style under the watchful eyes of Authorized teacher Tova Steiner at Little River Yoga. She credits Virginia Lung and Tova with teaching her how to teach, and thanks all her fellow students who have allowed her to experiment on them with various adjustments and techniques on the path to becoming a teacher herself.


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Editor: Carolyn Gilligan

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